Like many other ancient celebrations, Halloween was originally a non-Christian ritual. According to the historian Nicholas Rogers, this celebration seems to be linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain. This feast was the largest celebration in the Celtic calendar and used to mark the end of as well as the beginning of the cycle of life. This feast was observed around the end of October / beginning of November at a time when the long days and the bonanza of summer would give way to the less prosperous winter period. Being farmers, these people had to secure livestock and ensure that the summer harvest would last through the winter months.
The Celtics believed that during Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year made their way into the next world. They lit bonfires and performed sacrifices to honour those who had passed on and to light the way towards their new destination. The Celts believed that on the day supernatural traffic was two ways; demons, fairies and the ghosts of departed already in the afterlife would come back into the real world.
In an effort to eradicate paganism, Christian missionaries hijacked non-Christian festivities and attributed to them a Christian twist. In this case, the feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st, yet unlike many other similar pagan feasts, Samhain was not wiped out.
Halloween was revived thanks to the Irish who had immigrated to North America. During the 20th century it evolved into the nationwide feast we love so well. Today Halloween is usually celebrated amongst family and friends. Parties and other events may be planned on October 31 or in the weekends before and after this date.
Many children dress up in horror costumes and visit other homes in the vicinity. At each stop they knock and ask for a treat. This is normally sweets. If they are not given anything, they threaten to do some “harm” to the inhabitants of the house. Some families make jack-o'-lanterns out of pumpkins and decorate their homes and gardens for the occasion.
In Malta this occasion has been celebrated only for about 20 years as costume parties. The custom of children trick-or-treating with parents has not yet caught up nationally.